Wouldn't you know, I am swimming against the tide of "month end" and Indonesia becomes a news item.
Reuters UK is running the story of 13 people who have fallen ill and suspected as being infected with H5N1:
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Thirteen people from a village in Indonesia's North Sumatra province have been hospitalized after suffering symptoms of bird flu, a media report said on Wednesday.
Sinar Ginting, a spokesman for the Adam Malik hospital in North Sumatra's capital Medan, was quoted by Kompas.com as saying that two patients from the group had been transferred to the hospital early on Wednesday morning.
The other 11 from Air Batu village were being treated in a local hospital, he said.
"They have bird flu symptoms such as fever and breathing difficulties," Ginting was quoted as saying.
Not all the patients were believed to have had contact with fowl, which is the most common way of contracting the virus, but Ginting said some chickens in the area had died suddenly and were found to have had the deadly H5N1 virus.
Indonesian health ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
This early in a situation half a world away it is impossible to know if this is something to be concerned about or just another "something" from a long list of potential "somethings" that are of no concern beyond those connected to the situation. I would be less than honest if I said that this story didn't cause me at least a modicum of concern. Three dead of an unidentified illness in a short span of time, along with somewhere around a dozen others ill would always cause me to watch a situation. But, this is after all, Indonesia, and we are painfully aware of some rather glaring shortcomings when it comes to efficient and proactive actions in the face of H5N1.
I would like to say this however, it is not at all likely that all of these cases are H5N1, even allowing that a few might be. For the answer to that we may have to wait weeks or months if this is an isolated outbreak that will settle right down as they have in the past. If, however, and is emphasis if, this is a significant cluster with human transmission involved, we will not have to wait very long at all. With that many cases of a transmissible virus and the cases begin to mount rather rapidly, even if only locally.
Finally, it has been my long held belief that it is not so much a single person infecting another person or two, or even three that we have to worry about, it is when we see transmission onto a third and fourth generation. And it is that that I, and others, will be watching for, the third and fourth generation in a connected chain of transmission.
Unfortunately, it is only a few watching. Indonesia's problems with H5N1 have become such a common story that it is no longer even much of a story. Tomorrow is the eve of the Olympics' opening ceremony and the world's attention will be riveted to the happenings in China, not unwarranted mind you, but the Olympics will drown out much of any other international news.
Added to the natural draw of the Olympics is the "side story" of the media and the Chinese government. Nothing captivates the media's attention more than stories about the media being victims of censorship or ill treatment. China appears to be willing to weather their wrath with all the contempt of outsider's opinions that China has shown historically. I suspect a few anonymous villagers ill and dying in Sumatra Indonesia cannot compete for journalistic attention when said journalists will be a "news item" themselves.
And so the "few" watch.